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The truth about lobbyists, wages and the working poor

Ed McKinney, Community Voices • Aug 6, 2019 at 7:15 AM

The House of Representatives recently passed the Raise the Wage Act that would over the next six years increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour.

Multi-millionaire Rep. Phil Roe voted against the legislation and took time to speak on the House floor as to his opposition to the legislation. His remarks cited the Congressional Budget Office report about the effect the legislation would have on the working public.

Here is what the CBO report said. “In an average week in 2025, the $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour would see their wages rise as well. But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless, according to CBO’s median estimate. There is a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers. The number of people with annual income below the poverty threshold in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million,” the report stated.

Representative Roe stated, “The CBO estimated the House bill could eliminate 3.7 million jobs.” He mentions nothing about the boost in wages for 17 million workers or the additional 10 million workers who likely would benefit from the legislation. Nor does he say anything about the 1.3 million who would no longer be listed below the poverty threshold.

The CBO estimate was between zero and 3.7 million workers. That indicates that it is a guess-estimate as to the number who would lose employment. Representative Roe does not know what poverty looks and feels like. He has never lived in poverty. So he would deny 17 million workers who would benefit with a boost in wages and another 10 million who likely would benefit in the year 2025.

His remarks also quoted from the Employment Policies Institute “that Tennessee would see 66,313 jobs lost if the minimum wage was increase to $15.” He fails to tell you the EPI made that statement assuming the federal minimum wage would be implemented immediately to $15 by the year 2020. The legislation that was passed by the House does not raise the minimum wage to $15 until the year 2025. That makes the EPI estimate quoted by Representative Roe invalid.

The Employment Policies Institute is one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, D.C., public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman, who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries. EPI is registered as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization under the name of “Employment Policies Institute Foundation.” This organization lobbies against raising the federal minimum wage. This group also lobbies against any health care reform legislation.

Did they lobby Representative Roe to vote “no” on raising the federal minimum wage and to continue the annual loss of wages for workers in the 1st Congressional District because of inflation? Who does Representative Roe represent? It seems he has a hard time helping the poor.

It should be noted that because of the low federal minimum wage taxpayers have to subsidize through social supports to help those earning wages that are below the poverty threshold. The estimated cost to taxpayers is more than $7 billion for those earning below poverty thresholds in the fast food industry alone (the largest group of low-paid workers). Getting any low-wage earner above the poverty threshold is a savings to the taxpayer because it gets low wage earners off of government support.

Representative Roe said “I am opposed to this legislation because more than doubling the minimum wage could be catastrophic for employment in rural areas, particularly in East Tennessee. The irony is that the very people this bill seeks to help through a minimum wage increase are the ones it would hurt the most.”

Representative Roe evidently does not realize that in the 1st Congressional District ‘’the rural areas” currently offer very little employment. Farmers hire migrant workers to pick their crops. How would raising the minimum wage be “catastrophic” to the 1st Congressional District rural areas? Are farmers going to let their crops rot in the fields? Perhaps he might want to look at the Census Bureau’s data about rural employment in the 1st Congressional District.

The last time the federal minimum wage was increase was in July 24, 2009. It has now been 10 years without an increase in the federal minimum wage. Any worker who has not received an increase in their federal minimum wage and who works full time has lost purchasing power because of inflation. For the year 2019 the annual loss in purchasing power is $2,924.52 for any worker who has seen no increase in the minimum wage in ten years.

If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with inflation it would be $8.66 today. The Raise the Wage Act would increase the federal minimum wage to $8.40 effective once the Act becomes law. Then over the next six years the minimum wage would increase $1.10 per year for six years until it reaches $15.

Although the House passed the Raise the Wage Act without Representative Roe’s support, the Senate most likely will not have a chance to vote for or against the legislation because Sen. Mitch McConnell will not allow the legislation to move to a floor vote.

The Washington County Commission recently decided to increase the minimum wage for full and part-time workers to $10. They identified fewer than 25 employees who were working for less than the $10 minimum wage. In addition, the commission asked the Employee Benefit Committee to establish a pay policy.

That pay policy should not only include minimum and maximum wages but also job descriptions, job responsibilities and should make every attempt to keep county employees wages above poverty thresholds. Those who work for the citizens in this county deserve to be paid wages that are above poverty thresholds. Obviously, raising wages will necessitate a plan that would include a time period to reach above poverty level thresholds. In addition, members of the commission need to urge our legislators to establish a state minimum wage law.

Ed McKinney of Johnson City is a retired business teacher.

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